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Articles: Gaelic football

Gaelic football

Gaelic football is a team sport mostly played in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It has some similarities to other codes of football but it also has aspects derived from other traditional Irish ball games. The sport is played outside on a grass pitch and the aim is to score points or goals by manoeuvring a ball into a goal or between two upright posts. The game is played by two teams of 15 players who can carry, bounce, kick or hand-pass the ball in order to advance up the field of play towards the scoring areas.

Many forms of football had been played in Ireland throughout history, but it wasn’t until English versions of the game threatened to take hold during the 19th century that the distinctive codes of Gaelic football were finally formalised. Since 1887 (with the exception of 1888), the inter-county All-Ireland Senior Football Championship has taken place on an annual basis and to this day represents the highest level of the sport.

Gaelic football attracts larger crowds than any other sport in Ireland and attendances of more than 80,000 are common for championship final matches. Outside of the country, its popularity is limited to Irish or Irish descended communities in countries around the world such as Great Britain, America and Australia.

A Gaelic football match

A total of 15 players play on each team with a further 15 available as substitutes. Only five substitutions can be made during each game. The players are split into different positions with one goalkeeper, six defenders, two midfielders and six attackers. The absence of an offside rule gives the game a very different feel to a football or rugby match.

The match is played on a very large grass rectangular field that is 130–145m long and 80–90m wide. A set of H-shaped goals are placed centrally at each end of the pitch. The goalposts are similar to those used in rugby but have also have a net fitted to the area below the crossbar to create a football-like goal area.

In front of each goal is a small square. During play, an attacking player may enter the square as long as the ball has been released by a colleague. From a set position play, such as a free-kick, the player may only enter the zone after the ball has arrived.

Gaelic football is played with a round leather ball that can measure between 69 and 74cm in circumference. The ball may be passed to a teammate by kicking or hand-passing it. A hand pass involves hitting the ball with the thumb side of a closed fist.

Players wear team kits and studded boots that are similar to those worn in association football. The goal keepers must wear a different coloured shirt to distinguish themselves from their teammates.

How a match begins

The two teams begin the match at opposite ends of the pitch with the direction of play determined by a coin-toss. To start play, the referee will throw the ball into the air on the centre line and two midfield players from each team will compete for possession by jumping for the ball and attempting to knock it to a teammate.

Top level County matches are officiated by a total of eight officials. The main match referee controls the game from on the pitch assisted by two more officials located on each of the side-lines. A fourth official also remains pitch-side to act as a standby, oversee substitutions and signal stoppage time. There are another two officials stationed at each goal post to judge if a goal or points have been scored.

Main rules and tactics

A senior county-level match is played over two halves of 35 minutes either side of a ten minute break. Club matches have a slightly reduced duration to 30 minutes per half. Depending on the tournament, a drawn game may be decided by 20 minutes of extra time split into two 10 minute halves, or by a replay.

The main aim of Gaelic football is to score goals and points. If the ball is kicked or punched over the crossbar, one point is scored. If the ball goes into the area below the crossbar a goal is awarded. Each goal is worth three points to the team. A player can score a goal by punching the ball with a closed fist, but only if it has come directly from a pass or has hit the ground or a post first. Otherwise, the ball must be kicked into the goal.

Players can run with the ball but after four steps, they must bounce the ball or drop it and kick it back into their own hand – this is known as soloing. A player cannot bounce the ball twice in a row but they can perform consecutive solos. The opposition will attempt to steal possession by intercepting the ball or by slapping it from the hands of a player. Rugby-style tackles are not allowed but players may shoulder-barge each other during play. If the ball is on the ground players must retrieve it by lifting it with their foot before touching it with their hands.

If a player commits a foul they may be cautioned with a yellow card or for more serious offences they may be shown a red card and sent off. The referee may also issue a black card, which means that the player must leave the field of play but can be replaced by a substitute.

Gaelic football teams can employ a variety of tactical methods to try and gain an advantage. Many teams try to move the ball quickly as soon as the ball has been won. This is the moment when the opposition is most vulnerable, with many players out of their defensive positions. Quick forward movement at the right moment can create space for players who can then run into the scoring zone. The aim for any attacking move is to finish with a scoring attempt or a dead ball situation and not to concede possession in-play.

In order to counter this measure, well-trained teams will immediately close down the opposition once possession has been lost and to try and stifle any counter-attack. When two top class teams are on the field, this type of play can result in a frantic game that quickly moves from one end of the pitch to the other.

Competing in gaelic football

Despite its huge popularity, Gaelic football has remained an amateur sport ever since it was founded in an official capacity back in 1887. The organisation that governs the sport, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), has insisted that it remains that way. For competitors, this means that playing at the highest level will not bring any financial rewards. In a world of millionaire sports persons, it is still hard to imagine that players can be motivated solely by playing for the pride of the shirt and for the enjoyment of the sport, but in Gaelic football, that is the case.

Young players hoping to play at the highest level know that they must structure their sporting ambitions around a regular day job. But despite these limitations, the sport has continued to grow and is now watched by more people than ever thanks to new satellite TV deals in the UK.

Gaelic football can be played at club level by junior, intermediate and senior competitors in most age groups. At senior level, it is the inter-county tournaments that attain the highest level of prestige.

The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is held annually between the top county teams who must qualify through a series of provincial knock-out rounds. The two remaining teams meet in the final, which is held in the third week of September.

The National Football League is the secondary inter-county competition and is held every spring. The tournament features 32 county teams (including London) that are ranked and then split into 4 groups according to strength. The teams that qualify from the groups progress to a knock-out stage and compete for the New Ireland Cup.

Betting on Gaelic football

Due to the continued rise in popularity of the sport, there are a good selection of betting options available on Gaelic football matches at senior and under-21 level. However, only a handful of top bookmakers currently offer markets on the sport.

The most common Gaelic football markets include predicting the result of a match (Match Betting), Handicap betting based on a points advantage (Handicap and Alternative Handicap Betting) and predicting the score at the end of both halves (Double Result). Further markets are also offered on who will score first and the overall winning margin.